Cambodia’s Role in Women’s Rights Defended

Government and NGO representatives traveled to UN headquarters in New York last week to defend, for the first time, Cambodia’s compliance with an international convention against gender discrimination, officials said on Tuesday.

Officials from several ministries at­tempted to explain to a UN committee the government’s adherence to the Convention on the Elimi­na­tion of Discrimination against Wo­men, which Cambodia signed in 1992, Minister of Women’s Affairs Ing Kantha Phavi told reporters.

“Questions were raised as to what Cam­bodia has done to promote wo­men’s situation, health and legal and eco­nomic status,” Ing Kantha Phavi said. “Since 2001, when we started to have peace and stability, the royal gov­­ern­ment started to focus on women’s issues specifically.”

UN officials especially questioned why the chbab srei—the Khmer wo­­men’s code of conduct that advises them to be subservient and quietly accept abuse—is still part of the gov­­ern­ment-approved public school cur­riculum, the minister said. Ros Sop­­heap, executive director of the NGO Gender and Development for Cam­bo­dia, ex­plained that the curri­cu­lum does not endorse the code of conduct, but asks students to analyze and interpret it.

“Each country has a unique cultural and traditional context so when we implement gender equality we need to account for our tradition and culture,” Ing Kantha Phavi said. She added that Justice Ministry of­­ficials pledged before the UN com­­mit­tee that the draft penal code would provide specific punishments for those who discriminate against wo­men.

Ministry of Justice Sec­retary of State Hy Sophea, who is in charge of the draft penal code, denied Tues-day that it addressed discrimination.

  (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)


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